Save Money By Being Indie

On May 3, 2011, in Experiences, Good Advice, by Steffen Itterheim

It might not surprise you that an Indie game developer spends less money than an employed game developer. After all the indie developer is likely making less money, so there’s less expendable income. But that’s not the whole story.

An Indie developer actually saves money that an employee would spend without second thought, or as a necessity even. Let me give you a couple examples about where and how much money I’m spending less than as an employed game developer.


Depending on where you live and where you go to work, the costs for commute can be immense.

In my case I was living about 5 miles (8 km) away from work, pretty close actually. At least two thirds of my colleagues commuted far greater distances each day. Most days I was going by car, sometimes by bike but on average I drove about 400 km per month not just to and from work, but also to and from lunch on occasion. I used to drive one of the most economical cars available, a VW Lupo 3L which at most consumed 4.5l Diesel during winter. Still I was spending about €26 per month on gas alone.

Km / month 400 km
Gas / km 4.5l Diesel
Gas / month 18l Diesel
Gas price €1.45 / l Diesel
Gas Total / month €26

Add to that additional costs, mainly car maintenance and taxes and those start to actually dwarf the gas prices. Based on repairs needed in recent years I estimate that on average the price for owning and maintaining that car was at least €100 per month.

As an Indie I virtually don’t drive anywhere work related, I could even do without a car entirely and just use public transportation. There are still costs for travel but overall I expect to save about €110 in commute costs each month. That’s for a work place that was almost too close for comfort. I used to be driving 160 km each day to and from work for several year. Imagine the savings in that case.


As an employee, I regularly went out to lunch with colleagues. Sometimes as often as 5 times a week. If not that, we went shopping in a nearby supermarket – more often than not buying more than what was needed for lunch just because the opportunity arose to buy something funny, informative, a desert or sweets for others.

The lunch money spent was (roughly on average) 12€ for every workday of a month, or times 22 around €264 each month. I still go out for lunch from time to time, and regardless of that I still have to eat lunch but overall it should only amount to €80. That’s €184 saved every month.

Other Savings

There’s a list of things where I suspect that I’m spending less but I find it difficult to put a number on it. Plus they’re highly dependent on lifestyle and seasons.

This includes things like how much laundry you’ll end up doing every month, how much you spend on cosmetic articles and fashion items for your work. For most the difference will be negligible but I did notice that some of the things I used to buy frequently are not as often on my shopping list anymore. Given the fact that most of that has to do with the social factor of working closely with others, slacking off in those areas is probably the norm if you don’t go to an office five times a week. How much of a difference that makes depends on how much (of a show) you “put on” before going to work.

Speaking of peer pressure, I find that the most significant additional costs that you can save are spendings on gadgets and doo-dads. It’s the things you buy at or for work because you think it’s fun to do so. We all bought various pieces of crap just to get a laugh or raised eyebrows out of colleagues. I have a USB-controllable Rocket Launcher. Others had bought USB fans, USB Xmas trees, and so on. You won’t normally buy these things unless there’s someone else around to show off these things or interact with them. No point in shooting foam rockets if there isn’t someone around who runs off screaming.

Then there’s the “Oh this game is so awesome, you HAVE to get it too!” kind of peer pressure that makes you purchase things you’ll later regret. I still regret having bought Warhammer 40k for €60 on Steam – then not liking it and only then finding out that you can neither return nor sell games bought on Steam. I never bought anything that cost more than €20 on Steam ever again for exactly this reason.

It’s hard to put a number on it, and it certainly depends on how susceptible you are to peer pressure (make no mistake, we all are!), how aware you are of your spendings, and so on. But just considering the games I bought and haven’t played, and the joke articles I have no more use for, this should amount to a savings of €30 per month.

Don’t pay for procrastination

One additional item to consider is that most people will always be short on money. Or so they say. If you look closely I’m sure you’ll find that together with your increasing salary your spendings also increase. You’ll rent a bigger apartment the next time you move, you might even buy a house or take on a loan. You may decide that it’s finally time to have kids. Reasonable, but there’s one type of spending that we tend to put off because we simply don’t pay for it that often, but still regularly.

You’ll have more magazine subscriptions that you won’t be reading, you’ll join a fitness club that you’ll rarely go to, you’ll have a subscription to various online services that you’ll pay every year but don’t use. You’re still paying a quarterly fee for your backup phone? Still paying for your Xbox Live or XNA subscription? Still haven’t cancelled that porn website membership? We all have subscriptions we pay for that we don’t actually use anymore, or not at the level we used to. Get rid of those and save that money!


Time is money, so they say. However, I have no idea how much time is worth. What I do know that with no commute, no extensive lunch hours and not spending as much time socializing – and I mean the kind of socializing that happens whether you want to or not, well rather not than anything else – you do have more time for yourself doing whatever you like to do whenever you like to. Well, at least much more often than before with greater flexibility.

How much is that worth to you?

For me, it’s priceless.

Total Savings

Overall, and just roughly filling in these numbers, I’m saving €324 every month being an Indie developer. You should do the math yourself because these numbers will certainly be different for you.

  Employed Indie Saved
Commute €126+ €16 €110
Lunch €264 €80 €184
Other Savings €40 €10 €30
Subscriptions More Less Depends
Free Time Less More Up to you
Total €430 €106 €324


Note: multiply the numbers by 1.4 and you’ll roughly get the US Dollar amounts.

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